By Hailey O’Connell
A diverse panel discussed the relationship the Catholic Church has with the LGBT community at the Cleary Dining Room on Wednesday.
The conversation was led by moderator Patrick J. Hale, the Assistant Director of Intercultural Affairs, featuring both pre-selected and audience questions for the participants to discuss. One of the most discussed topics was the idea of acceptance, and how that it doesn’t always correlate with people’s interpretation of the Bible.
“There is definitely a sensationalism about certain issues in the church,” said Erica Stewart, Stonehill alumni and Campus Minister for Community Service and Partnerships. “There is a big difference between acceptance and tolerance- and they are sometimes treated as the same.” Erica elaborated, saying that there is a clear difference between the Church recognizing a married lesbian couple as members as opposed to a married couple.
“My faith hasn’t been something I’ve struggled with, but if the Catholic community will accept me,” said Stewart. “I have a sure sense of who I am and I need to find communities that affirm me.”
Amanda Dolan, a junior at Stonehill College and a Moreau Student Minister, reveals her struggle with others accepting her sexual orientation and the stereotypes that arise from it.
“If you identify as something other than straight, you’re assumed to be flambuoyant and fluid with your sexuality,” said Dolan. “You get everything from ‘it is just a phase’ to ‘you’re going to Hell.’”
Father Matt Fase, C.S.C., agrees that stereotypes are a huge factor from preventing further discussion in the Catholic Church, and often they are focused on the Church itself.
“The biggest stereotype I hear is that the Catholic Church is small-minded,” said Fase. “The Catholic Church has a robust intellectual history of praying and thinking for nearly 2,000 years.”
Unlike Protestantism, which relies solely on the Bible for doctrine, the Catholic Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and the Vatican for additional doctrine. According to Mary Joan Leith, Ph.D., a professor of Religious Studies, this clear distinction allows for religious reform and an evolution of thought regarding homosexuality.
“The Catholic Church has an opportunity to adjust, reflect and evolve,” said Leith. “The Church has a history of making periodic upgrades from the influence of the Holy Spirit, which allows for an evolution of thought and allowing people to see the Bible in its original content and its overarching principles.”
Leith and the panelists expand on this idea of the Bible being utilized for its overarching principles, citing that the text has potential to empower as opposed to oppress the LGBTQ+ community. Different bible verses were shared, with testaments to how they can be utilized as a source of empowerment.
During the closing of the panel, the participants made final remarks, lamenting on the theme of interconnectedness and acceptance. The simple yet powerful phrase of love is love echoed through the tiny dining room.
“I want my students to struggle toward themselves,” said Leith. “Often different parts don’t conflict even if it feels like it, it is just a step. Only you know the complexities of your heart, and those complexities are a gift from God.”